1-on-1: Stan Rapp Explains How Digital is Direct Marketing

Stan Rapp is a marketing icon. He is chairman of Engauge, a total-engagement marketing agency. He was co-founder of Rapp Collins (now RAPP) and served as CEO of McCann Relationship Marketing, agencies with revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Advertising Age named Rapp one of the 101 people who shaped advertising in the 20th century. He is the co-author of six books, including the best-seller MaxiMarketing, and his latest, Reinventing Interactive and Direct Marketing.

SUCCESS: How has the digital age changed direct marketing?

Stan Rapp: The Internet is the center of the universe in our personal and business lives. It is the transformative agent that has taken the various aspects of direct marketing from being 10 percent of the economy in the past to being used by 50 to 60 percent of marketers in today’s digital environment. I predict it will be 60 to 70 percent of the economy in the next 10 years. The real breakthrough came in 2004 with the arrival of broadband, when 50 percent of homes in America got high-speed connections. With broadband came video, YouTube and Facebook. What this technology has done is level the playing field between small business and big business. Small businesses can do things that were never conceivable or affordable before. Now, with the explosion of social media, all marketers are direct marketers.

That’s exciting. So how can small businesses use the digital age to their advantage?

SR: There never has been a better time for the small-business owner in terms of what is available to you. Take advantage of this big new plus—the ease with which you can reach your prospective new customer and develop a relationship. Mass media and mass marketing built famous brands like Coca Cola, Sony and Ford. But what built those brands is being replaced by a personalized, interactive, digitized media world, and it is a ballpark that small business can play in—actually more believably than big business because it’s local and personal. The real shift is from mass to individualized, and if you are local, it is easier to be personal. You just have to make yourself known using the new online socializing channels. Small business has to think big, and big business has to think small.

What are some resources to help small-business owners learn to think big?

SR: Read The Purple Cow by Seth Godin. He will help you think big. Next, read The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. His book will enable you to understand the miraculous and new opportunities made possible by the digital age. Who would have dreamt that the music business would be totally transformed by iTunes? The majority of recorded music is sold by direct marketing today, by a single source—Apple. You have a chance to get your new product aimed at a tiny piece of the market, in front of people as never before. That’s the story behind The Long Tail. Third, read my book Reinventing Interactive and Direct Marketing. It presents a unified view of the totality of new marketing rather than simply the digital piece, the interactive piece or the direct piece.

What are other advantages small-business owners have marketing in the digital age?

SR: Small businesses can move faster. There is one person who has to make a decision. Big companies with thousands of people—there’s bureaucracy, even in the best companies. When you have hundreds of brands, you are going to move more slowly. Another advantage is costs are now minimal. You start with a Facebook page. You tweet. You come up with a smart video that involves your audience with your product in some way and send it to YouTube. Maybe 50 people will watch it. Maybe 1,000 will watch it. Maybe 1 million will watch it. And if it doesn’t cost you anything—woo!

So what’s the impact Facebook and Twitter have on direct marketing?

SR: The jury is still out. These are so new. But let me share two stories that will illustrate that it’s probably going to be sensational. Imagine a fast-food retailer that is not in the Denver market, but is going to open a store there. They have more than 100 million Facebook friends and 600 Facebook friends who moved from other parts of the country to Denver. They invite those 600 to an event in which they announce the location of the new store. They put on a big show and get 100 friends to raise their hands and become ambassadors online. They can eat for free for six months at the restaurant and they talk about it on the Web, in their blogs, etc. This is new one-to-one-to-everyone marketing. The other story is about public speaking. I am a brand with my public speaking, and when I am about to speak anywhere, I send people interested in me as a speaker Twitter streams. Tweeting becomes a selling tool in real time. Each of us can do this. What could be better than a totally blank canvas that no one has scribbled on before? You can write your own story. That’s Facebook, Twitter and mobile today.

So, what’s your advice for the small-business owner just starting out?

SR: Nothing beats sending introductory offers through direct mail. Yes, tried and true direct mail still works wonders. Send out a postcard. I am amazed when I see a new restaurant in my area and they never invite me in. Send an offer for a free drink, appetizer or dessert. If you don’t reach out for customers, they don’t know you are there. So everything is not digital. Some established ways are effective. Also look into your local newspaper. There are people who read it to keep up with what is happening locally in town. Run a little ad. It doesn’t have to be big—2 by 4inches. One word will always get attention—free. Or take out a single billboard. You will look like a big, successful company, and the viewer doesn’t know it’s the only board you have a message on. Use your website and find ways to bring people to your site. Get them to opt in. Now you have the start of a relationship, and an almost no cost e-mail advertising medium to promote your product or service; it’s today’s most effective way to build a business.

Any parting advice?

SR: The world has radically changed. The quicker you can learn how to be a star in the new playing field, the better. Get with the Web. It’s where the action is and is going to be. Jump in and learn to swim like a champion.

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